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Scout Scale and Grades: Power, Speed and the Intangibles

After a couple of days off for the Draft, the series wraps up today with a look at the last two tools and an often misunderstood aspect of completing a players profile.

This started as a way to answer some user questions posted in the comments of various threads and the positive response has been flattering, so for that I thank you. It is important to keep in mind however that this is just surface stuff designed to help you maybe see things a bit different the next time you go to a game.

The last two tools on the list are power and speed, and while they each share individually in the in a players profile they are also the two least scout-able because they are so black and white.

Power is described in two ways, "raw" and "usable" (or game). The analogy I use is one is gross and one is net. Think of your paycheck, on one side is the money you actually earned (raw), on the other side is what you actually take home after the government and insurance companies are finished screwing you (usable).

Raw power is determined in batting practice because it's a neutral environment for every player. The pitcher is the same throwing intentionally hittable pitches in prime contact locations. During games however the shoe is on the other foot, the pitcher controls everything, he's throwing his best stuff which isn't always straight or down the middle and the last thing he wants you to do is hit the ball.

Scouts like practice because this is where players are most in their natural environment, you don't see guys flailing at 0-2 breaking balls in the dirt or swinging at balls a foot off the plate because they're trying to move a runner. In BP, players swing naturally, their mechanics and timing is perfect on each and every swing. Scouts are looking for the ability to make consistently hard contact with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. If you're fortunate enough to get to a game early enough to see BP, especially at the amateur or lower pro level, you may see scouts with radar guns which they are using to measure the hitters' bat speed.

If a player is routinely hitting 80 mph BP pitches far over the fence that's a good thing, but what scouts want to see in games isn't necessarily just the distance but if the level of contact is similar. The pitches are harder and with more movement and direction so a different distance factor and trajectory are expected, but does the hitter recognize the pitch and location well enough to drive the ball into the gap or over the fence away from his pull side?

I was watching a Marlins game the other day and I don't remember who the pitcher was but he threw Giancarlo Stanton an 80 mph changeup on the outside corner about thigh high. Stanton committed his stride but not his front hip or hands. He recognized the pitch and basically flat-footed the ball 440 feet into the hedges behind the CF fence. Doing something like that in BP is expected, doing that in a game is what gives scouts a boner.

It is said speed is the only tool that doesn't slump, and it's true. Unless a player is injured the raw speed he has is God given, and while it can be improved slightly it's through secondary factors like technique and conditioning. You'll never see a 30 runner all of a sudden become a 50.

A common error I see in various comments is the belief a player is a good baserunner because he steals a lot of bases. In reality, one has nothing to do with the other. Rickey Henderson wasn't the fastest guy but he was a great baserunner. He had a natural gift for reading pitchers and as he incorporated knowledge and experience with that he became the greatest base stealer of all-time. Gerardo Parra of the Dbacks is a fast runner, an easy 60-65 on the scale, but I can't recall anyone who gets thrown out on the bases as many times as he does, and not just on steal attempts. That's baserunning.

Speed is usually measured in two ways, a straight 60 yard sprint and from home to first. A major league average 50 on the 60 is 6.8. From home to first for a right-handed hitter average time is 4.3, you'd subtract a tenth for a lefty. An 80 runner would clock a 6.35 or below in the 60 and his home to first (RH) would be a 4.0 or below (3.9 for a lefty).

The final topic is a sabermatrician's nightmare because it can't be measured or quantified into a number, a player's makeup and character. It's subjective for scouts too, it matters in the big picture but only in his own individual opinion. Some guys ignore things that would drive another guy nuts, but at the end of the day what he puts in his report matters just as much as how hard he throws or how far he hits the ball.

Just like when talking about pitching and realizing command and control aren't the same thing, neither are makeup and character. They both can be traced back to a root cause, but how they are evaluated are opposite.

For me, the easiest way to define them is makeup is what a player does in a baseball environment; how he behaves in uniform, on the field, or signing autographs at the grand opening of a neighborhood business. Character relates to what he does away from the game, arrests for drugs or domestic abuse or being a jerk in a public setting or on social media.

I can't state this enough, scouts love watching practice because this is when players are most natural. Everyone is equal, running, hitting, throwing and behaving. If a guy shows up with his hat on backwards and his shirt un-tucked and wearing shoes instead of cleats, then he's clearly not taking his job or responsibilities as a teammate seriously. Scouts will watch things like how a player shags fly balls in BP or during infield, does he back-up when he's supposed to, does he talk to his partner when they don't connect on a double play turn or outfield relay. When guys are in the cage do they take the bunting drill just as seriously as they do the pull drill, when they're part of the cycle group do they take leads as they would in a game and do they hustle between stations and pick up their coaches and signs. We've all seen guys with tools and skills out the wazoo who flame out and guys with lesser packages who go on to have long, successful major league careers. Makeup and character are a big factor in why that happens.

I want to thank MonkeyEpoxy and Cookie (among others) for asking me to do this, and to John for allowing it. Hopefully I've painted a broad enough outline to give you foundation for what scouts, and ultimately you, should look for when seeing a player. The best compliment I could get from this is the next time you go to a game to implement some of this and put a comment down that it worked for you.

As a brief recap, just in case there is a game in your immediate future, some things to look for. And remember, focus on one or two players per side..third baseman for the home team and second baseman for the visitors, or left side of the infield for one and right side of the outfield for the other. Stick with it, it will feel weird at the beginning, trying to not focus on the pitcher or hitter initially, but I think you'll feel better about the process as you're driving home.

Catcher: Footwork, arm strength, agility, soft hands, pop time, leadership.

Infield: Arm strength, range/speed, footwork and hands and how they work together, instincts, "controlled" agressiveness.

Outfielders: Instincts, arm strength, accuracy, throwing to the right bases/cutoff man, range, ability to read the ball off the bat, ability to take charge of the play (infielders too).

Hitters: Swing plane, top hand extension, stance and set-up, bat speed, length of swing.

Pitchers: Arm strength, quality (not quantity) of pitches, velocity, movement, mechanics and delivery (repeatable), backside arm extension, ability to stay focused during stressful situations.

Thanks!
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